Yep, it's Been a While

A friend of mine said I had better get something on the Blog or people will think it's a dead item on the website. I agree!  While I have many thoughts of entries throughout the year, I have been lax in keeping you "in-the-know."  So, let's change that. Here's an update of what's going on at the farm.

It was a long, cold winter for sure!  When Spring came around, we were concerned that the orchard trees and some of the perennial herbs would not return.  Lo and behold, it looks like the fruit is coming on just fine.  The tart cherry tree is loaded with cherries, so I can't wait to release the Tart Cherry chocolate; one of my personal favorites!

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As of today, the Chocolate Mint Basil is making it's debut this weekend at the Westside Community Farmer's Market.  The apples and pear trees look great with one new Bartlett pear tree coming on line with fruit after 3 years of waiting.  New plantings include more cherry trees, currants, rhubarb, gooseberries, honey berries and raspberries. We plan to expand our strawberry patch and are keeping the current fruit to ourselves. I feel a fresh strawberry sorbet coming on!

Last year, I had one lonely quince show up. This year the little quince tree is loaded. The perfume of this fruit is amazing!  I wish I could bottle it and put in under my pillow! Will it show up in a chocolate this year?  Not sure. Fall brings so many flavor options that I have to choose carefully what will be released.

The first year for a good Quince crop.

The first year for a good Quince crop.

The Bees

Up until April, there were 12 bee hives on the farm.  The gentleman who owned the hives and cared for them took them away.  They did not do well over the Winter, and with the cool Spring, continued to die.  Since he lives 40 minutes away, he thought it best to cut back to the hives that were closer.  I don't blame him. Every farmer must make business decisions. Not to worry, I still have some five gallon pails full of last years honey. 

The good news is, we bought what is called a Top Bar Hive. This is one which is shaped more to a bee's liking as far as building comb, which is a "U" shape. We picked up the first one in May, got some Italian bees and are happy to report they are loving their new home!

The new Italian bees busy making new comb

The new Italian bees busy making new comb

Angela checks the bees. Happy bees!

Angela checks the bees. Happy bees!

There you go. A quick update. I promise to do better with new entries in the blog.  As always, if you have questions, drop a note through the Contact page.  Love your feedback!

 

 

Cranberry Meets Chocolate - Bennett Cranberry Co.

Side Note: If you didn't all ready  know, we love partnering with other farmers and were so happy to meet Cheryl and Randale of Bennett Cranberry Co. A huge grateful thanks to them for taking time out of their very busy harvest schedule to give us a birds eye view of the harvest operation.  Now, on with the show....

In May, we had visitors from South Carolina. One of the items on the bucket list of things to do was to take them to a cranberry bog.  After several inquiries, we got a response from Bennett Cranberry Co. in Wisconsin Rapids....so off we went!  During our conversation with Cheryl Bennett, I mentioned that I would love to work with them on a Cranberry chocolate.  No problem!  So, we said we would be back for a visit during harvest in the fall.

Fast forward to October and a phone call to Cheryl to see if we could get some fresh cranberries to make a seasonal chocolate.  Off we went to the Bennett Cranberry Co again. 

The freshly picked cranberries!

The freshly picked cranberries!

We arrived to the hustle and bustle of machinery sorting cranberries and were greeted by a smiling Cheryl and Randale Bennett (owners).  I had requested five pounds of Cranberries for chocolate making ahead of time.   Randale had just come back from the bogs and brought box of TWENTY FIVE pounds of cranberries!

Randale gave us a quick overview of the the berries he had picked for us. He cut one in half and we tasted it's fresh, tart flesh.  Yum!  The taste is different fresh off the plant compared to the ones you buy in the store. 

On to the bogs.  Cheryl took us out to the bogs where they were harvesting.  It's hard to believe the machinery invented all to pick these little treasures. I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

With all excitement of the trip to Bennett Cranberry Co.  it was time to make a chocolate that would compliment it's tart nature.  My thoughts wandered to childhood memories of my mother's fruity oatmeal crumbles.  It took a couple of rounds of testing but the end product is one to be proud of.  The tart center is contrasted with an oatmeal crumble topping.  Just enough to give you the texture of those old time oatmeal crumble bars.  Enjoy the CranBennett!

 

The CranBennett

The CranBennett

Aronia - the chocolate

Aronia fruit grown on the farm

Aronia fruit grown on the farm

Did you know there is an actual Midwest Aronia Association? A group of folks dedicated to providing information on the culture of Aronia?  Well, now you know!

To say Aronia berries (also known as Chokeberries) taste sweet is, well, not exactly the way I would put it.  As I've told many people, farming is an experiment in my mind.  I planted these Aronia  shrubs about five years agonot really knowing much about them other than what the seed magazine said. The magazine made them sound so yummy I just had to add some to the farm to infuse in to my chocolates.

Aronia are about the size of a large Blueberry. 

Aronia are about the size of a large Blueberry. 

The first berries berries appeared in 2012. Since it was such a dry year I was surprised to have any! With a childlike affection, I picked a few and popped them in to my mouth....and spit them out!  Bitter bitter bitter! Not what I expected. Ah, a challenge!

I picked about two pounds of berries, processed them in to a nice thick puree (they have lots of natural pectin btw). Time to figure out which chocolate would stand up to these bitter berries.  This is the hard part of my job. Infuse the puree in to some chocolate...taste...and repeat with another chocolate.  It took three tries. The beautiful result will be released in boxes at the Madison Westside Community Market on September 7th. Hope to see you there!

The end result! 

The end result! 

What's in a Name - the Rebranding Game

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Re-branding a company is a time consuming, often frustrating, but in the end the best reward.  When I launched my business with the name of LiL chocolates, the name stood for "Life is Like" chocolates.  The problem was, no one understood it as that. Most often I heard, "Oh, look at the LITTLE chocolates." 

Time for a reboot... 

I started considering new names in the fall of 2012.  I wanted something simple which connected my family farm with my chocolates. After all, growing products on the farm to add to my creations is an intimate part of my business.  But I also wanted customers to connect with the history of my family farm.

After narrowing down my list of names, Roots Chocolates was the one that clicked.  It literally took months to get to the point of final launch of the new logo and brand.  I feel the new logo and brand fit nicely with life on the farm growing the seasonal herbs, fruits and vegetables used in the chocolates and confections and the twelve bee hives that supply the wonderful raw honey I use in all of my products. 

I look forward to sharing updates from the farm!  Every day is an adventure!